Q: [School Age] With summer just around the corner and camps filling up quickly, I want my kids to have a great summer packed with fun activities. How do I know if my child is ready for sleepaway camp – or better yet, how do I know if I’m ready?
A: The late-night cabin talks, the songs around the campfire, the beloved cafeteria food and the adventures in the great outdoors—it’s an exciting time when your child reaches the age where he or she can attend a sleepaway camp. Here are some simple tips to help you assess if your child is in fact ready for sleepaway camp, and what to do to prep:
- Ask and you shall receive! Is your child asking to go to camp? Many times, younger siblings hear about camp from older siblings and they want to be in on the fun. But if your child has never been to a sleepover or calls you to come pick them up when they do spend the night away from home, chances are the timing is just not right. If your child is excited and enthusiastic about an adventure away, then they will likely have a great time. The key is to focus on readiness, and not on age.
- Think about the basics. Some basic indicators are that the child should be able to shower or bathe on their own, and have the ability to read a daily camp schedule. A few “musts” for braving the camp experience!
- Find the right camp. There are hundreds of camps to choose from, so do your research—both online and by calling to speak with a camp staff member. Take a trip with your child to a camp Open House so you can see for yourselves if the camp’s programming, layout, mission and staff will meet your camper’s interests and needs. Camp staff love to engage campers and parents about the fun had at their camps, so make sure to ask questions and encourage your child to ask questions too!
- Support can be KEY. If your child seems hesitant about sleepaway camp, find out if they know a friend who is going or consider sending an older sibling, too. If the camp is an extension of a known program like the YMCA, church, or school, then often the child will already feel comfortable packing up to spend the week with that familiar group.
- Anticipate homesickness. Remember that camps have specific strategies to cope with time away! Many camps post or mail out a parent guide with great ideas for preparing your child. Call the camp to ask how they respond to homesickness so you will both be on the same page. And of course, send a care package or a “short and sweet” letter to your camper, telling them how proud you are of them going away to camp and that you can’t wait to her all about it when they arrive home! Keeping your letters positive can help them think positively as well. Plus, campers love to hear their name at “mail call,” and a box of treats and a note can go a long way.
Anne Jeffrey is Camp Director for YMCA of Orange County’s Camp E.L.K., an overnight camp just outside Wrightwood, CA that allows children to unplug from everyday life, explore the great outdoors and connect with themselves and others.